…And you shall eat and be satisfied, and you shall bless the Eternal your God over the good land that God has given you (Devarim 8:10).

As Ramban explains there, this is a positive commandment; a “thou shalt” type of commandment. Ramban also points out that this commandment to say Birkat Hamazon, blessing after meals, is similar to other positive commandments: making a railing for one’s roof to prevent falls (22:8), making the Pesach offering (16:1), and taking first fruits (26:2). All of these commandments are because of “the good land”; that we should Bless God whenever we are satiated because of the “good land” that God gave us; “that it was given as an eternal inheritance to you, and you will be satiated from its goodness.”

Ramban connects eating to satiation with the Land of Israel. He points out that the Land of Israel is something given to the Jewish people, just as food and life are. Birkat Hamazon, then, is acknowledgment of good done to us by the Creator of the universe.

The Sefer Hachinuch (430) points out that there is no positive good that we can possibly give to God by making blessings over our food. If God is the source of all blessing, then anything we say would be like adding droplets to the sea.

Birkat Hamazon is one of two blessings that are actually commanded by the Torah. The other is Birkat Hatorah, the blessing said before studying Torah. All other blessings that we recite are commanded by the Rabbis.

The two blessings that have a d’oraita status, meaning that they are commanded us by the Torah itself and not by the Rabbis, are over that which keeps us alive physically, and that which characterizes the Jews as a people and defines the relationship between Jews and God.

The Sefer Hachinuch does not mention the connection to the Land of Israel in its discussion of Birkat Hamazon. It focuses instead on the infinite and incomprehensible nature of God that we are bound to acknowledge after each meal.

The Ramban, of course, lays out a teaching here that is very conducive to religious Zionism. He says that we are to remember the Land of Israel each time that we eat a meal. This is accomplished not only by reciting the verse that mentions “the good land” during the Birkat Hamazon, but by the fact that the grains which can halachically constitute bread; those grains which can become either chametz or matzah on Passover are the grains of the Land of Israel: wheat, barley, spelt, oats, and rye. It is after consuming bread from those grains to satiation that we are obligated to say Birkat Hamazon.

We can  take this to mean that Jews have an obligation to live in Israel, as most religious Zionists believe, or that we have a connection as a people to that land, and that however the connection to that land shifts with history, our connection to the land is permanent, even when we live away from it. We may, as individuals, or may not have plans to live in Israel, but we can remember as we recite Birkat Hamazon,  that the sources of our lives as individuals and as a people: food, Torah, and the land, are gifts, and they come to us from the Source of existence itself.

Shabbat Shalom!

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